HOLY COW! Reading Series: Interview with Renee Calarco

Posted by MB - July 11, 2012

We are looking forward to presenting The Religion Thing as part of our HOLY COW! Play Reading Series on Sunday, July 22nd at 7pm at Jimmy’s 43 in the East Village. We had the pleasure of interview Playwright Renee Calarco about the play.

What inspired The Religion Thing?

Several years ago, the Washington Post ran an article about couples who do peer-to-peer marriage counseling. The article profiled one particular (long-married) couple who talked about how they counsel couples and what it takes to keep a marriage together. Because I’m a comedian at heart–and because I love trouble–my first thought after I finished the article was: “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if this couple were completely unsuitable for each other?”  So I wrote a ten-minute play about a fictitious couple who ended up being Brian and Mo. The ten-minute play didn’t really touch on religion at all. And honestly, it wasn’t much of a play; it was more of a sketch.

How is this play different or similar to some of your other plays?

I like to play with time and structure, so in that sense this play is similar to some of my others. My play Short Order Stories is told from several different points of view. I have a one-act play that jumps backward and forward in time (it also has pandas having sex, which a discussion for another time).  The Religion Thing has moments of flashback and fantasy.

I tend to write comedies that sort of breeze along until something awful happens…then things get uncomfortable and really not so funny. So it’s similar in that way, too.

It’s different in that this is the first play I’ve written about people who live in Washington. And while it’s not an overtly political play, it very much involves the political and religious beliefs of the characters.

What was your process like for creating the piece? (How long did it take you, do you read the play with actors often, etc.)

After I finished the ten-minute play, I couldn’t get Brian and Mo out of my head. I honestly kind of fell in love with them and felt that they deserved a more complex play than the sketchy thing they were kind of knocking around in. Bascially, I just kept writing until something happened. My background is in improvisational comedy, so I played a lot of improv games with myself while writing. I’d ask myself  “what happens next?” and write it down, beat by beat. I’d imagine myself onstage as part of the play and improvise dialogue. That led me to finishing the first full-length draft.  Charter Theater really helped me get the play into shape; we did a couple of staged readings and some development work. Geva Theatre did a staged reading as part of a playwrights festival. And then Theater J made me look at it again—I revised the crap out of it—until they produced the world premiere this past January.

So it was kind of a meandering road from first draft to production. I wrote the ten-minute play in 2004; I finished the first full-length draft in 2005; the world premiere was in January 2012.

What do you hope to gain or learn from the staged reading with Project Y?

After the production closed, I substantially changed one of the fantasy characters. So I’m really curious to see if that change works! I’m also looking for places to trim and clarify. I think it’s almost there…

When did you decide you wanted to pursue playwriting?

I’ve always been a writer, but I didn’t realize I was a playwright until after I’d been doing improv for awhile. It occurred to me that improv is really playwriting without the laptop. And then I’d see plays that were truly groundbreaking and think “I want to write like that!” Conversely, I’d see plays that were, uh, less-than-groundbreaking and think “I could write better than that!”

So in the late ‘90s I started writing ten-minute plays—the gateway drug to harder plays. It was all over after that.

Do you have any playwriting commandments or rules you follow? If so, what are they? How do they instruct your writing?

1. Need = Behavior = Conflict. I learned this from the phenomenal Gary Garrison. This is my guiding principle.
2. Be fair to the characters. Love them all.
3. Don’t censor. Be willing to write crap every single day.
4. Don’t throw anything away.
5. Don’t whine.
6. Go play outside.

RSVP to the FREE Reading of The Religion Thing.


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